The ‘Gripped’ Characters: Q&A with Maya Daly on ‘Smoke & Mirrors’

Written by Maya Daly, Duxbury, Massachusetts

Maya is a senior at Duxbury High School, where she is a member of the Varsity Rowing Team. In school, she is a part of the yearbook club, Best Buddies club, and Habitat for Humanity. She enjoys studying English and history, and plans to major in one of those subjects in college. 

After reading Gripped Part 4: Smoke & Mirrors by Stacy Padula, Maya was asked to share her honest opinion about some of the main characters’ arcs. Her responses are below:

  1. Luke Davids: 

Originally, I feel that I judged Luke very incorrectly. Originally, I saw him as irresponsible and reckless with both his younger brother, Jason and Cathy’s lives, as he was providing them with dangerous drugs. However, in this book I see that he is much more responsible than he is given credit for, and is incorrectly judged by many. His concern for his brother’s life after he sees him spinning off the rails shows how he is much more concerned and responsible than he once seemed. 

  1. Jordan Dunkin: 

To me, Jordan seems to be another character who is misread consistently. While he is seen as the “partier” of the Dunkin family, and is commonly painted as the one who seems to be the most “off the rails,” it seems that he is really one of the more responsible ones. In college, he seems to be a much more goal oriented person, focusing mainly on his academics, sports, and his faith. Despite his “partier” reputation, it seems that he is truly one of the characters who is the most controlled in their relationship with drugs and alcohol. 

  1. Taylor Dunkin: 

Taylor seems to be someone who dug himself too deep in an effort to cope. Now, as we see Taylor more towards the beginning of his addiction, it seems that he had many other mental struggles at that time relating to his inability to get back into school and focus on football like he once wanted to do. His drug addiction proves that drugs can “grip” anyone, even a star athlete who no one ever would have expected to become dependent on prescription drugs can become “gripped,” as shown by Taylor. 

  1. Jason Davids: 

It seems now that Jason’s story shows many of the same similarities to Taylor’s. While Jason did not have his knee blown out, losing his relationship with his best friend of many years, Chris, sent him into a bad place, and in an effort to cope, he turned to drugs. He is also someone who many would never expect to be “gripped” by drugs, as he is a star student and athlete; however, it shows again that drugs can get to anyone. Jason seems to have become less and less true to the person he was at the beginning of the book, and he seems to have lost many of his morals. 

  1. Cathy Kagelli:

Cathy seems to have strayed from her morals more and more throughout the book. She has allowed herself to be persuaded into doing things that she otherwise never would have done (by Jason), and the more she does, the farther she seems to get from morals she once held. Though sometimes she takes a strong stance against the drugs Jason does, it seems that more often than not, he is able to persuade her to go against her better judgment and to try something she wouldn’t usually.


Now being adapted for TV by Emmy-winning producer Mark Blutman!

After spending her first month of high school grounded, Cathy Kagelli is finally allowed to socialize and uncover what her boyfriend, Jason Davids, has been up to without her. When Cathy realizes Jason has been experimenting with a variety of drugs, she devises a plan to save him from himself… but she just may lose herself in the process.

Meanwhile Taylor Dunkin finds himself playing a game with even higher stakes because his life, his reputation, and the safety of everyone he loves are all on the line. Taylor’s two younger brothers, Jordan and Marc, have been at odds for years, but they are brought together to decipher the mysterious clues Taylor is leaving regarding his whereabouts. As secrets are revealed, the Dunkin boys’ relationships will be changed forever. In Taylor’s weakest moment, he made a deal with the devil, and now there is a reckoning. But who will pay the price?


“Invigorating, engaging and a must read. The characters in The Gripped Series diligently tackle the essence of forces that can limit greatness within.” – LaTonya Pinkard (Ms. P) from Netflix’s Emmy Winning Docuseries “Last Chance U”

“Gripped is perfect for Middle School and High School students, as well as their parents. It is an educational, yet entertaining narrative that highlights the growing problem of addiction in the U.S and just how easy it is for harmless fun to take a dark turn, regardless of who you are or where you come from.” – Elizabeth Harvey, Emerson College

“I recommend Gripped to young adults in middle school and high school because this book addresses topics such as relationships, drugs, and alcohol that most books recommended for this age group don’t go into enough detail about. With the opioid epidemic at an all time high, it is important that teens educate themselves on the dangers that drugs bring, and this book does a great job at providing an in depth look on the consequences of getting involved in dangerous, illegal substances. I would also recommend this book to parents of teens so they can get a better understanding of how to deal with issues regarding addiction, or simply just issues regarding their children’s relationships. By reading about this story of young adults who got caught up in drugs, parents and teens will be better informed and will hopefully be more comfortable to have open conversations about the topic.” – Sophia Coggeshall, University of Notre Dame

Published by Author Stacy A. Padula

Stacy Padula has spent the last 14 years working daily with teenagers as a college counselor, mentor, and life coach. She was named "Top Inspirational Author of the Year" for 2022 by the International Association of Top Professionals (New York, NY). In 2021, she was broadcast on the famous Reuters Building in Times Square as "Empowered Woman of the Year." Her Gripped book series is currently being adapted for TV by Emmy-winning producer Mark Blutman. She is the founder and CEO of Briley & Baxter Publications: a publishing company that donates a portion of its proceeds to animal rescues each month. She has edited and published a variety of titles, including Boston Bruins Anthem Singer Todd Angilly and Rachel Goguen's The Adventures of Owen & the Anthem Singer, LaTonya Pinkard of Netflix's Last Chance U's Nate & His Magic Lion, and former NHL player Norm Beaudin's memoir The Original: Living Life Through Hockey. Stacy resides in Plymouth, Massachusetts with her husband Tim and two miniature dachshunds, Briley and Baxter.